Three blues do not make yellow.

August 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Even though I enjoy watching birds, as I’ve mentioned (once or twice before), I’m no “bird watcher” or worse still…. “birder” (a moniker which makes my skin crawl).

The fact is I like watching birds, but I also like watching moths, mammals, dragonflies, reptiles, amphibians, trees, fish – I just like being out in the countryside peering at wildlife.


Until yesterday, I’d never set out deliberately with a specific butterfly in mind to see.

I’d never been “butterfly hunting” before.


Yesterday and that all changed as my wife and I took our wee 9 month old son, who had experienced his first hour of nursery away from his mother an hour or so earlier (and cried like a…..) up the Thames valley to a secret hill to go butterfly hunting in the sun


Now, I’m big and ugly enough to admit that whilst I do know a little about moths (having run a garden moth trap for a number of years now), I know very little about plants (I read pure zoology rather than biology or botany (or even ecology)) and not much more about butterflies – so I was always going to be out of my comfort zone so-to-speak, on this hill.


I had heard that a beautiful yellow butterfly called a “clouded yellow” had been seen at least once on a National Trust reserve called “Lardon Chase” on top of Streatley Hill, above Streatley and Goring on the Thames.

Clouded yellows are immigrants (don’t tell the Daily Mail) and I’d never seen one before, so I thought we’d have a short drive up the Thames and a little walk in the glorious weather, looking at the view and for clouded yellows….



I’d never been to Streatley before, but as I drove us up Streatley Hill, I was immediately reminded of Porlock Hill in Somerset (a stop off on the way to our old surfing trips in north Devon), such was the steep incline. In fact both were mentioned in a recent Guardian piece on the UK’s top 10 cycling hill climbs.


We parked the car and set off – not knowing what to expect really (other than a beautiful view of Streatley, Goring and the Thames below) - throngs of people picnicking? Crowds of lepidopterists bouncing around the calcareous chalk meadow with their nets? Stampeding cattle?



I’m always left disappointed with “birdwatchers” or “birders” (as they gleefully refer to themselves as).

Nasally-voiced men with chips on their shoulders seems to sum them up quite nicely – always a bit sneery if you’ve not got a £2000 “scope” over your shoulder and always talking a language of their own:

“I dipped out on that yellow-bellied sapsucker Nigel”.

“Yeah Tim, but spose you saw that gropper before it was taken out by the sprawk”.



After yesterday, (admittedly not a huge amount of experience) – I’d say lepidopterists put ornithologists (or “birders” I guess) to shame.


My wife and I sauntered into the large, grazed expanse of Lardon Chase, perched above Streatley under a beautiful blue sky and hot August sun.

I immediately spotted some clumps of marjoram and thought I’d walk carefully through them on my lep-hunt, camera round ma neck, poised!


I looked up occasionally and there always seemed to be a chap or chappess in a hat, smiling widely, maybe carrying a net, maybe just a camera like me, clearly on the butterfly hunt also. Admittedly these butterfly folk were on the old side – almost certainly retired, but they all looked so happy and friendly.


I caught sight of a blue butterfly and inched towards the ground to photograph it.

An old dear in a hat with a butterfly badge on it tiptoed towards me.

The butterfly flew away (my fault – I quickly learned these blue butterflies are VERY flighty) and the butterfly woman and I struck up a conversation.


I explained to her that my family and I were hoping to see a clouded yellow, but these blue butterflies were very nice to see in the meantime.

With a face etched into a permanent leathery smile, the old dear kindly explained to me what I should be looking out for (which species and how to tell them apart) and whereabouts in the large meadow might I find which butterflies.

She even gave me very handy tips on how to photograph the more hyperactive butterflies (the Adonis blues!) and showed me a photo or two she’d taken on her very nice camera.

Now as it happened, I was using my old Panasonic FZ50 bridge camera to take photos of these butterflies – the old lady giving me tips was using a full Canon 7D – a bit like my 40D only more expensive and better.

If she was a “birder” she’d have sneered at my wee bridge camera (not knowing what camera I had at home, or any of my photography success with both cameras) but of course she was no “birder” and was quite delightfully helpful.


During our ramble around the lovely Lardon Chase, full of field scabious, marjoram and horseshoe vetch, I managed to see (and photograph) three different species of blue butterfly, thanks in the main to the first butterfly lady that helped me out – but also one or two other “smilers”.


The first were common blues (see photo), the second were the larger, chalkier chalkhill blues and finally, after a little searching, some quite stunning Adonis blues (see terrible photo below).

I even had a beautiful male Adonis Blue land on my elbow when I was attempting to take a photo of one of its competitors on a vetch flower!


All three of these blue butterflies have scientific names rooted in classical mythology (as do all blue butterflies and many other lepidopteran species). The silver-studded blue which I happened across in a local lowland heath last year is no different, being named after the all-seeing, hundred-eyed classical giant, Argus Panoptes.


For quick reference – the three blue butterflies I photographed yesterday and the meaning of their scientific names can be found below (with hyperlinks to mythology sites if you’d like to find out more).


Common blue.

Polyommatus icarus


Polyommatus - Many eyed (an epithet of the all-seeing, hundred-eyed giant Argus, protector of Io).


Icarus – Son of Daedalus who provided wings for him, so he could escape from Crete. Wings were held together with wax, which melted when Icarus flew too close to the sun – so he fell into the Agean and drowned.


Chalkhill blue

Lysandra coridon


Lysandra- daughter of Ptolemy I. “The emancipator”. Queen of Macedonia.


Corydon was a shepherd in Virgil’s “Eclogues”.



Adonis blue

Lysandra bellargus


Lysandra- daughter of Ptolemy I. princess of Egypt.


Bellargus – beautiful Argus (the all-seeing, hundred-eyed giant and protector of Io).


Even though my wife and I peeled our eyes (of considerable strength!) for any fleeting glimpse of a clouded yellow butterfly  - we left Lardon Chase without our original quarry being found – but extremely happy that we’d had a lovely walk on the Berkshire/Oxon border in quite beautiful weather, surrounded by stunning, fluttering little sapphire butterflies and equally delightful lepidopterists.

I’d even watched one of my favourite birds hunting for a few minutes – something that I’d not seen for over two decades! Now I grew up with spotted flycatchers hunting from our back gate, but haven’t seen one since I left my childhood home. That was a lovely treat for me yesterday, in case I needed one, surrounded by butterflies.


This to be fair, was just my introduction into the world of butterfly hunting – a lovely world where people wear shorts and sun hats and are smiling, bouncing ‘round flower meadows with nets and cameras and no egos at all.

Maybe it’s because the butterflies are out in the summer.

Maybe it’s because, rather like my uncle (Ruary) of The Dragonfly Project (geek of the week) fame, the “insect-lovers” out there always seem fun and good natured – much more than eccentric I think.



No, three blues don’t make a yellow…. But that didn’t matter in the end.


You know, I think we’ll be back to Streatley….



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